I've never really understood how people manage to classify themselves as a single Magic psychographic. Even people who confidently place themselves in two categories have seemed to me to be cutting themselves off from all sorts of fun. Sure, if you're a Spike you derive the most fun from winning, but does that mean you don't find crazy combos and huge creatures to be fun on some level? Just because Timmy wants to resolve his Worldspine Wurm doesn't necessarily mean he is happy to lose forever after that, does it?
That's where I find myself, predominantly when it comes to FNM. Sometimes all I want to do is get one combo off, after which I don't care if I go 0-X. Other weeks, I have a brew that I really want to be competitive. Yet at others, I just want to go huge, then go home. I think this ability to switch "modes" has been a major factor in my ability to avoid burnout despite playing Magic most nights of the week.
It also lets me play a huge range of decks and test a wider variety of ideas; in short, I will play anything that catches my eye even if it looks like it won't win. I've recently played everything from a Cat theme deck in Standard to a Splinter Twin/Scapeshift hybrid in Modern to Affinity in Legacy to the lists I want to share with you today. One is tested, one is not. Next time out I hope to be able to give you a summary of how the untested list played while also giving you a new list. Hooray for structure!
Izzet Control? Not Really.
My DCI number is seven digits. I've been playing a long, long time. The first tournament I ever won was a two-on-two multiplayer game where I played a Mono-Red contraption with Mana Flare and burn spells while my partner played Mono-Blue counterspells. Both decks were terrible, but together they were nigh unbeatable, I guess?
Counterburn has never really appealed to me as an archetype though. I have an aversion to burn spells in general, likely because they tend to stop me from playing my brews to their full effectiveness. The perception of such decks as mindless tools of destruction is definitely flawed, but I will not say they are fun to play against for most decks. Adding counters to the mix is like making someone wear a Chinese finger puzzle while forcing them to watch Once Upon A Time: you frustrate them while you make them hate you.
Recently there have been some fun cards printed that have led me down the Izzet path. From the time Return to Ravnica came out, Izzet cards have been slotted into a "tricky, Johnny-centric cards that win out of nowhere" role, very much the tinkering and innovative flavour for which the guild is aiming. Prior to rotation, I tried to build the Riddle of Lightning/Blast of Genius deck with cards like Tromokratis and Breaking//Entering to varying degrees of success. Khans of Tarkir and now Fate Reforged gave the deck some great new toys in the form of delve spells, allowing us to both refill our hands and hit for large chunks with Riddle of Lightning.
Okay, I'm in.
Red has always excelled at keeping small creatures off the board. We still have a wealth of ways to do that, with Lightning Strike and Magma Jet being my favourites. This deck is going to rely heavily on seeing as many cards as possible, so the scry 2 on Magma Jet will be very valuable. We'd also be crazy to run this deck with fewer than three copies of Anger of the Gods, so we'll play the full four. Some metagames may want this relegated to sideboard duty, but locally there's a lot of Abzan Aggro and other creature-based strategies that make a three-damage sweeper valuable in the maindeck. We know we want Riddle of Lightning too as one of our major kill cards. Fated Conflagration is hurt by its mana cost but is so versatile that I don't think any heavy red deck should leave it on the bench. It kills almost every planeswalker the turn they come down, it deals with Siege Rhino and Polukranos, and it lets us scry.
Initially, I had a suite of eight maindeck counters: 4 Disdainful Stroke and a 2-2 split of Dissipate and Dissolve. I think Dissipate is horribly underplayed right now with so much graveyard recursion, and we can afford to shave the Dissolves with all the scry we're playing elsewhere. However, I didn't like what that did to the feel of the deck, so I cut them to the board in favour of some more card selection. Pearl Lake Ancient is the new Aetherling, and in some ways, it may even be better. It also plays a key role in a cute combo that we'll discuss in a moment. Fate Reforged also gave us the gift of the best new removal spell in quite some time: Reality Shift. Combined with Courser of Kruphix on the opposing side or our own Aetherspouts, Reality Shift can significantly hose opposing decks relying on ETB triggers while also just giving us cheap removal with no conditions.
Before we go to the actual list, let me talk about Master the Way. I am a big fan of this card in general, especially in a deck like this that can keep my hand mostly full with relative ease. Where I really like it is in combination with Pearl Lake Ancient against opponents with no countermagic. What we're going to do is tap out to float mana, preferably twelve, but less can work. Then were going to activate the bounce ability of Pearl Lake as many times as we can, each in response to the other. This will bounce some multiple of three lands to our hand, as well as PLA himself. With five of our floating mana we're going to dome our opponent with a now-huge Master the Way, leaving up the rest to pay for a Stubborn Denial, to recast PLA or (post-board) to counter back. Then we laugh. A lot. It's somewhat risky against a deck that can disrupt you, but that's why you don't do it against those decks!
Oh, and we're playing Ugin. Because, I mean, Ugin. He's gas.
My success with this deck has been mixed. It is definitely powerful, and once it stabilizes it is able to shut the door in a hurry. With that said, it is weak to decks like G/R Monsters that can flood the board with high-toughness creatures. Disdainful Stroke and the extra Conflagrations help there. The control matchup is surprisingly good, as you can just burn their face while making them counter every game-winning threat. Shu Yun has been amazing out of the board for me in that matchup.
Steam Augury impresses me more every time I cast it. It feels like an instant-speed Treasure Cruise many times, though obviously it doesn't hit the opponent for eight off a Riddle. I am seriously considering going to three Augury and no Cruises just because I can almost always draw three cards if I want to without having to tap out on my own turn or take delve fuel away from Digs and Temporal Trespass. The latter of those has been very, very good for me. Played correctly it is just an "I win" button, and of course, it provides a huge punch when you hit it with Riddle.
This is by no means the most powerful deck I have ever made, but it sure is a fun one. I derive a lot of pleasure from making my opponents read my (inevitably foil) jank cards as they are about to lose to them, and the look of bewilderment on the faces of my opponents when I Upheaval my own board is delicious. Well, right up until they realize they're dead, anyway.
Sometimes you just have to admire the subtlety of humour at Wizards of the Coast. In my brewing sessions with Fate Reforged cards I have spent a lot of time staring at Tasigur, the Golden Fang. We've all noticed the bananas by now, and most people will even have linked the card to the artwork on Dutiful Return and its banana-carrying focal zombie (which is something I never thought I would type).
Personally, I'm still chuckling that a banana looks an awful lot like a golden fang.
Far greater minds than my own have waxed lyrical about the power of ol' Tazzy, but I am no less a fan of his similarly Sultai sibling, Torrent Elemental. A 3/5 flier is not the most impressive body in the world, but the inevitability of death by anthropomorphized whirlwind is far more appealing. In a straight control deck it's a good deal worse than Pearl Lake Ancient, but in a tapout control strategy I think it becomes a lot more powerful.
If we're going to make full use of Torrent Elemental's unique return-from-exile ability, we need to be sure it gets exiled. Delve spells, Whip of Erebos, and Perilous Vault are the most obvious ways to do that, but we can also find room for Reality Shift (again). In addition to being a versatile removal spell, it also lets us exchange our Torrent Elemental for a 2/2 in response to opposing removal. With Courser of Kruphix and Temples in our deck, it's pretty likely that we'll know what we're manifesting and we can plan accordingly.
The plan then is to extort as much value as possible from both Torrent Elemental and Tasigur. Murderous Cut, Tasigur himself, and Dig Through Time are going to be automatic inclusions here, and we'll want to make sure the rest of the deck is as high-impact as possible to maximize the returns from Tasigur activations. Cards like Sultai Charm are going to be immensely valuable, as are resilient threats like Silumgar, the Drifting Death. We're trying to ensure we win every single attrition battle and every long game.
Modern Magic has no more consistent card advantage engines than planeswalkers. We're going to be churning through our deck at speed, which should allow us to run only a couple of each, but run them we shall. Here's where I'm thinking I'll be for the weekend:
- 2 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
- 1 Garruk, Apex Predator
- 1 Kiora, the Crashing Wave
- 1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
It's possible we want some number of Nyx Weavers here. The sideboard likely needs Drown in Sorrow, Bile Blight, and Liliana Vess, along with perhaps Monastery Siege. Palace Siege is also a consideration. I'll be jamming some games with this before taking it for a spin, and next time out I'll let you know how it went.
Until then…Brew On!